Tag Archives: Naomi Wood

The Hiding Game by Naomi Wood: Love, jealousy and betrayal in the Bauhaus

Cover imageNaomi Wood’s The Hiding Game has been on my radar since I discovered it was about the Bauhaus, the German art school whose designs I’ve long admired. It’s one of a multitude of books published to celebrate the movement’s centenary this year. I still have my eye on Theresia Enzensberger’s Blueprint which looks promising but it will have to be a remarkable novel to eclipse Wood’s for me. Beginning in 1922 with the admission of six students whose lives will become inextricably bound, Wood’s novel tells their story through Paul whose memories are brought vividly into focus by the death of Walter, both friend and enemy.

Paul is a talented painter, a skill hardly worth consideration in the Bauhaus school whose emphasis on material and functionality constrasts starkly with the ornate architecture and conservatism of its Weimar home where the local worthies make clear their disapproval of the eccentrically dressed instructors, baptisms of the ‘Bauhaus babes’ and outrageous parties. Paul is quickly smitten by Charlotte, a young Czech, conspicuous in her mannish dress and perfect bob. They become a pair but not a couple, joined by Irmi, Kaspar, Walter and Jenö in an inseparable sixsome. Eager to assert his financial independence, Paul finds work painting extravagantly florid works for rich Americans. When a shocking incident lands Jenö in front of a tribunal, Walter joins Paul determined to earn the money needed to pay off the man Jenö has beaten. Walter has fallen as deeply for Jenö as Paul has for Charlotte, a passion which results in a series of terrible betrayals when it becomes clear that Jenö’s affections lie elsewhere. Meanwhile the brownshirts, for whom the Bauhaus represents everything they both despise and fear, begin their inexorable march to power. When Hitler is elected Chancellor, a decision must be made to stay or go putting love to the test.

Wood explores the nature of love and morality through the story of these six characters weaving her meticulous research lightly through it. She’s the consummate storyteller, foreshadowing events so that we understand the nuance and complexity of these unfolding relationships while maintaining a riveting tension. The Bauhaus detail is fascinating. Wood has a knack of including celebrated members of the movement without a trace of clunkiness and her descriptions of their work are beautiful in their simple clarity:

From the outside you could see many floors at the same time, and the way people disappeared and then materialised made them appear like actors in a jump cut.

This is a story fraught with betrayal, jealousy and a tortured form of love told in the form of a confessional, a tragedy in which the appalling events of Nazi Germany are personalised. It’s a stunning piece of fiction, surely set to appear on a multitude of prize lists and win at least one.

My 2019 (Man) Booker Wish List

Another year, another Man Booker Prize longlist in the offing, except this year its reverted to the Booker Prize, thanks to a change of sponsorship with Crankstart stepping into the funding breach as of June 1st this year. To be eligible for the prize all books must be published in the UK between October 1st 2018 and 30th September 2019, and have been written in English. Regular readers will know that any similarity between my wish list and the judges’ longlist is likely to be entirely coincidental. The judges usually allow themselves twelve, although they sometimes stretch to thirteen and this year I have, too. Their list will be revealed on Wednesday, 24th July but here’s mine – wishes not predictions – in no particular order, with links to my reviews.

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Little                                                         Flames                                   Land of the Living

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Memories of the Future              In the Full Light of the Sun            A Stranger City

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We, The Survivors                            The Narrow Land                       The Language of Birds

 

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Starling Days                                     The Dutch House                    The Hiding Game

Beyond the Sea

It’s quite possible that I’ll read a gem I’d loved to have included here before September 3rd when the shortlist is announced but I’m sticking to the tried and tested. And if I had to choose one? That’s a tough decision this year. It’s a toss-up between A Stranger City, The Dutch House and Land of the Living, although there are several others I’d be loath to relinquish.

What about you? What would you like to see on the list, and what do you think the judges will plump for?

Books to Look Out for in July 2019

Cover imageInevitably, July means summer reading which means fewer books for me, not being of the reading by the pool persuasion or doing anything by the pool for that matter. That said, I’m starting off with what will be a surefire summer bestseller: David Nicolls’ Sweet Sorrow. I loved One Day which was commercial fiction perfection as far as I’m concerned. This new one explores young love over a summer in which sixteen-year-old Charlie meets Fran. It’s described by the publishers as ‘a hymn to the tragicomedy of ordinary lives, a celebration of the reviving power of friendship and that brief, blinding explosion of first love that perhaps can only be looked at directly once it has burned out’. I suspect I’ll probably be reading this one happily ensconced on a sofa.

Nicola Barker is the other end of the literary spectrum from David Nicholls, often wacky and innovative. I still haven’t got around to reading H(a)ppy but have fond memories of The Cauliflower®. I Am Sovereign follows a forty-year-old teddy bear maker trying to sell his Llandudno house. A viewing by prospective buyers sets in train a series of events that cause all concerned to question reality. ‘As religious epiphanies bump up against declarations of love, examinations of subjectivity hurtle into meditations on the history of culture, our entire understanding of the book – and of the boundaries between fiction and real life – is radically upended. A tour de force in miniature form that twists the novel into new shapes as the characters sabotage the fictional world they inhabit, I Am Sovereign sees Nicola Barker at her most joyful, provocative and riotous’ say the publishers promisingly.

We’re back in much more straightforward territory with Anna Hope’s new novel, I suspect. I enjoyed both Wake and The Ballroom very much so hopes are high for Expectation which sees three friends living in East London, their lives full of art, love and delight. A decade later, Hannah, Cate and Lissa are trying to cope with the inevitable disillusionments and difficulties of adult life, each thinking the others’ lives are better than theirs, and each wondering how to make their life more meaningful. ‘Expectation is a novel of the highs and lows of friendship – how it can dip, dive and rise again. It is also about finding your way: as a mother, a daughter, a wife, a rebel. Most of all, it explores that liminal space between expectation and reality, the place – full of dreams, desires and pain – in which we all live our lives’ say the publishers whetting my appetite nicely.

Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game is about the Bauhaus movement, a school of art and design whose ethos and style I find very appealing. Wood’s novel follows Paul Beckermann who arrives at the school in 1922 and becomes entranced by both the teaching and his fellow students, falling in love with one of them. Political tensions and its own internal rivalries result in the group’s disintegration leaving Paul with a secret he’s forced to face when an old Bauhaus friend contacts him, many years later. ‘Beautifully written, powerful and suspenseful, Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game is a novel about the dangerously fine line between love and obsession, set against the most turbulent era of our recent past’ say the publishers. I very much enjoyed Mrs Hemingway, Wood’s take on Ernest Hemingway’s marriage so I’m looking forward to this one.

Cover imageTwo American novels published in July sound like catnip to me. The first, Regina Porter’s The Travelers, follows two families – one Irish-American, the other African-American – beginning in 1942 as America recovers from the Second World War. ‘Illuminating more than six decades of sweeping change – from the struggle for civil rights and the chaos of Vietnam to Obama’s first year as President – James and Agnes’s families will come together in unexpected, intimate and profoundly human ways. Romantic and defiant, humorous and intellectually daring, Regina Porter brilliantly explores how race, gender and class collide in modern-day America – and charts the mishaps and adventures we often take to get closer to ourselves and to home’ say the publishers which sounds right up my literary alley.

As does Salvatore Scribona’s The Volunteer which spans four generations of fathers and sons, beginning in 1966 when Vollie Frade enlists in the US Marine Corps to fight in Vietnam. ‘From the Cambodian jungle, to a flophouse in Queens, to a commune in New Mexico, Vollie’s path traces a secret history of life on the margins of America, culminating with an inevitable and terrible reckoning. Scibona’s story of a restless soldier pressed into service for a clandestine branch of the US government unfolds against the backdrop of the seismic shifts in global politics of the second half of the twentieth century’ say the publishers promisingly.Cover image

I’m ending July’s new titles as I began with a novel I’d be amazed if I didn’t love – Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s Starling Days. Oscar and Mina move to London after a patrol car picks her up on the George Washington Bridge, apparently about to jump off. Oscar hopes that getting away from New York will help Mina recover but finds their love tested when another woman offers Mina both friendship and attraction. I loved Buchannan’s debut, Harmless Like You, which was both poignant and wryly humorous. I’m hoping for more of the same with Starling Days.

That’s it for July’s new novels. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Paperbacks soon…

Six Degrees of Separation – from It to Mrs Hemingway #6Degrees

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the others on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we’re starting with Stephen King’s It which I haven’t read and have absolutely no intention of doing so. Far too cowardly!

I know very little about King’s novel but the blurb tells me it’s set in Maine which gives me the opportunity to scuttle quickly back into my comfort zone. J. Courtenay Sullivan’s novel Maine has a New England summer home setting and family secrets to reveal, both favorites for me.

Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum is one of the best family secrets novels I’ve read. A multitude of clues are spilled finally revealing what’s been puzzling Ruby Lennox for much of her life. Atkinson’s beautiful structured, often very funny novel won her the Whitbread Book of the Year award back in 1995 before it became the Costa.

The eponymous Cathy from Anna Stothard’s The Museum of Cathy is also keeping secrets, this time from her fiancé. The arrival of a package with no name or note attached threatens to unravel her new life in this nicely taut novel which has some gorgeous descriptions of the natural world.

The Museum of Cathy is set in Berlin leading me to Gail Jones’ A Guide to Berlin in which six people – all Nabokov aficionados, all visitors to the city – gather together to discuss the work of their literary hero but begin by telling their own stories.

Jones is also the author of Sixty Lights about a woman’s fascination with the newly emerging photographic technology which leads me to William Boyd’s Sweet Caress, an homage to woman photographers. It follows the life of Amory Clay from snapping socialites to documenting war in a career spanning much of the twentieth century. You could think of it as the female equivalent to Any Human Heart if you’re a Boyd fan.

In his novel’s acknowledgements Boyd mentions the war photographer Martha Gellhorn, one of the three wives of Ernest Hemingway whose stories were fictionalised in Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway. I put off reading Wood’s novel for some time owing to my Hemingway antipathy but enjoyed it very much.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a fraught New England summer holiday to the South of France in the 1920s, equally fraught at times. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.

Books Read (But Not Reviewed) in September 2015

By BloodI’m quite a fan of bloggers’ monthly reading recaps so thought I might try it myself. As ever, I’ll only include books I feel are worth recommending so should this become a regular feature they’re unlikely to be long posts.

I almost gave up Ellen Ullman’s By Blood, mainly because it has a curiously antiquated style – perhaps over-stylised might be a better way to describe it. It’s about a lecturer, currently on an enforced sabbatical because of his obsessive behaviour towards his students, who overhears a therapist and her client wrestling with the effects of her adoption on her life. He takes it upon himself to intervene, playing detective and tracking down the client’s birth mother. Somewhat improbable yet compelling, it’s well worth a read.

Bret Anthony Johnston’s Remember Me Like This follows a family whose older son has gone missing but four years later is found alive, having been abducted and abused. It’s told with a great deal of compassion from the point of view of each member of the family, all of whom have been changed irrevocably. A difficult subject well handled, although a tad too long for my taste.

Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway is one of those books much tweeted about last year. The Hemingway husband in question is Ernest but as you can tell from the title it’s really about his four wives. Ernest is much as you would expect but what’s really interesting is the novel’s portrayal of the relationships between the four wives, three of whom forge enduring friendships with each other – comrades in arms, perhaps.

The last title is Tim Spector’s The Diet Myth, way outside my usual literary beat but Cover imageabsolutely fascinating. Spector has been involved in a long-term study of microbes that live in our gut – friendly bacteria as those probiotic yoghurt adverts like to call them. He argues that these microbes, which differ from person to person, are essential for our health. Their elimination – often because of lack of diversity in our diets thanks to processed food – may well help to explain the seemingly inexorable march of obesity. He counters the many myths peddled by the media about the effect of what we eat on our health and made me think carefully about my own diet, proudly free of most processed food as it is. Very clever jacket, too.

That’s September’s roundup. Maybe there’ll be another one for October.